Bouldering for Fun and Sport

Bouldering is a rock climbing sport that uses no rope; it requires less gear because boulderers don’t climb very high compared to sport climbing. The climbing route is typically 15 feet tall or less with a crash pad at the base. Bouldering moves require strength, while sport climbing is more about endurance. Although bouldering doesn’t require a climbing partner like lead climbing, trad climbing, and top-roping do, bringing one or more people along to spot you in case you fall is always a good idea. 

Equipment for Bouldering 

The first question is often: Do I need the same equipment for bouldering as I do rope climbing? The answer is no. All you really need is a pair of climbing shoes, which, if you’re indoor climbing, you can usually rent at the climbing facility. If you’re climbing an outdoor boulder, you’ll also need a crash pad to cushion your falls. Although not typical, some bouldering enthusiasts choose to wear a helmet for extra protection. Practical indoor and outdoor extras include chalk, a cleaning brush for over-chalked holds, and a white athletic tape roll to protect your fingers.


Climbing shoes: Without good climbing shoes, you’ll slip off the wall. These shoes not only protect your feet but also use special rubber material and a specifically designed shoe shape to help you better grip small edges and the face of the rock. Climbing Shoes

Chalk: Use chalk to better your gripping potential. Chalk helps absorb any liquid on your hands and prevents sweat from interfering with your grip on the rock. There are several different kinds of chalk climbers can choose from according to personal preference. 

Chalk Bag: When using fine-grain chalk, a chalk bag is a container that holds it. Chalk bags can be tied around the climber’s waist for easy access while climbing. 

Crash Pad: Crash pads help to lessen the impact of a fall when bouldering. I cover crash pads extensively below. Crash Pads

Climbing Helmet: A helmet specifically made for rock climbing. It protects your head from any falling debris and rocks. Climbing Helmets

Climbing Brush: Climbing brushes help to remove excess chalk from a chalk-covered hold, which allows for a better grip on the hold.

Climbing or Athletic Tape: Whether you’re climbing in a climbing gym or outdoor climbing, rock climbing is rough on your skin. Tape helps protect your skin from blistering, or, if it’s too late, can lessen the pain of climbing with broken skin. 

What is bouldering’s best chalk?

Chalk is available in three forms; each climber finds what they prefer. 

One widely used option is fine-grain chalk, which coats fingers and palms well. Many climbers also use chalk balls (fine-grain chalk in a tissue sack) and blocks. Chalk balls are slightly neater than loose chalk and give your hands a thinner chalk coating. 

Blocked chock is a fantastic option because you can crush it into a powder or store it easily in little bags. Some fancier chalks use chemicals to keep your hands super dry and help prevent sweating off the chalk. While more expensive, some people love using this untraditional chalk. Note that those with sensitive skin may find this type of chalk uncomfortable. Experiment with different types and see what works best for you.

Climbing Shoes

You’ll see lots of the best climbers wearing La Sportiva Solution. Made explicitly for bouldering, they hook very well for both toe and heel hooks. La Sportiva uses super-soft, sticky Vibram XS Grip2 rubber for their Solutions, which means you can feel precisely where you are on the wall. 

If you have wide feet, La Sportiva is too narrow. Try Evolv Shaman’s pair. Pro-climber Chris Sharma designed them. It edges and hooks well, and you’ll find the rubber super sticky. 

However, both of these shoes are quite aggressive — they have a steep arch that can be uncomfortable for new climbers. Try renting shoes or buying a cheaper shoe to learn on before moving on to advanced and expert climber shoes. If you’ve been rock climbing regularly, though, these are a great option. 

When trying to decide the right climbing shoe, you’ll want some key features. The shoes must be snug with the right mix of synthetic and leather in the upper material, ideally with excellent breathability. Of course, you want a comfortably shaped shoe, high-quality craftsmanship, and a superb closure system (whether laces or Velcro).

Some shoes have greater precision and sensitivity with toe and heel hooks, which is useful when encountering small pockets and toeing on crimps or a climbing wall with an overhang. In addition to quality heel and toe hooks, a well-anchored tongue is needed, best with a design that prevents cracks from getting frayed or damaged during climbing. 

Some shoes are also known to be excellent for sport climbing. Edging means placing the edge of your shoe on the edges of rock jutting out, allowing you to stand, usually with the inside front of the shoe, just below your big toe. However, you may want to check out a No-Edge model shoe that wraps around and follows the natural contours of your toes.

What are the best bouldering shoes?

Best Bouldering Shoe: Five Hiangle.

This relatively uncomfortable leather shoe is excellent for rock climbing a bouldering wall with aggressive rubber. It’s a good choice for steep, overhanging routes. The Hiangle is a bouldering shoe. Its aggressive downturn is good for bouldering, but it’s a bit stiff when it comes to toe-hooking and smearing. A stiff shoe can offer more edge support and minimize your feet’s fatigue. This shoe’s stiff midsole helps with edging, and edging support counterbalances the drawback of less toe-high flexibility. You need to be precise when balancing on edges, and more flat-profiled shoes allow a larger toe box area to position yourself on rock edges. Sensitivity and solid construction, however, make this an excellent edging shoe.

What clothing is good for bouldering?

The most important thing is to wear comfortable clothes so that you can focus on climbing instead of your clothes. Beyond that, outdoor bouldering is often easier with sturdy, athletic pants and an athletic shirt. An insulation layer is also a great thing to have. Even on warm days, throwing on a puffy jacket or fleece is a great way to stay warm between burns and keep your muscles loose.

Do I need a bouldering crash pad?

Bouldering is much safer when using a crash pad. You will rarely climb over 20 feet, but having crash pads below you to break your fall when you take a misstep can significantly reduce any potential injury. Your friends will also hopefully be spotting you to make sure you fall on the pads. A crash pad is the best protection in avoiding unpleasant accidents. Since having the right crash pad is so important, here are a few things to think about when choosing one for you: 

Crash pads generally come in two sizes. Regular pads are 3×4 ft, and large pads are 4×5 ft or 4×6 ft. Large pads have more surface area upon which to fall, but they are heavier, more expensive, more cumbersome to carry, and can be a nuisance to long or overgrown approaches.

All crash pads are a continuous piece of foam used for storage/transport. 

Regular pads are lighter, cheaper, and easier to transport and walk with, although they offer a smaller landing zone. Starting with a smaller pad is great for versatility. As your bouldering progresses, you may want an additional large pad. 

You will also want to choose between two main styles of crash pads: taco-style and hinge-style.

Some pads fold in half soft, like folding a taco, and others by use of hinges. The soft taco-style pads are great because there’s constant padding and no hinge to fail, but they don’t fit well with uneven terrain and can be awkward to store.

Hinge style pads are cut into two separate sections and linked to a fabric hinge. The fabric hinge allows you to easily fold it up for transportation and storage. Hinge-style pads also usually last longer than the other styles because the foam itself doesn’t fold. The downside, of course, is that there is no padding in the hinge. Another danger is if a rock gets in between foam sections — that’s something you won’t want to fall on!  

What is a crash pad made from?

The pad’s construction determines what it’s best use is. Most pads have either open-cell foam, closed-cell foam, or both. Some pads use recycled or new materials like memory foam. There is a very soft foam called “open-cell” that provides a comfortable seat and a soft landing. Your hand can easily compress the foam, but unfortunately, the open-cell cushioning for larger falls and repeated use is not sufficient. 

In contrast, closed-cell foam is a denser, sealed foam. Closed-cell foam is durable, although a harder surface to land on. Most pads use several different types of foam. For example, one popular method is to have a closed-cell foam layer over an open-cell foam layer. This design helps protect against dangerous accidents because the top layer better dissipates the energy from a fall while the softer bottom layer conforms to ground irregularities. You can also flip it over to use the open-cell foam when you want a softer platform when falling from a shorter height. 

Another popular method is sandwiching open-cell foam between two layers of closed-cell foam. This method protects from high falls (i.e., falls from increased height or into a dangerous fall zone, making them more consequential), but is generally a stiffer pad. While more rigid pads protect you better from the ground, you’re also more likely to roll your ankle on a hard pad. If you have weak or injured ankles, choose a softer pad.

The foam will degrade over time, particularly when used often. The more times you fall, the more foam you break down. You usually notice this degeneration when you fall and hit your back on something hard, or when comparing to your buddy’s brand-new pad. 

Some manufacturers offer easy-to-replace replacement foam when this happens. If you plan to use your crash pad often, the option to replace your foam is worthwhile.

Most pads offer at least some storage. Whether it’s a hook-and-loop flap, a zippered pouch, or a sleeve to keep gear in your mat fold, it’s convenient to store a few small things in your pad.


First, let us talk about clothing: wear what’s comfortable and won’t get caught on equipment. Also, if you’re going to boulder outdoors, consider using an insulation layer because even on warm days, having some fleece or a windbreaker might be needed to stay warm between climbs. 

As you enter the sport of bouldering, you can keep the following terms in mind to better anticipate the challenges you will find: 

Overhangs: These are roofs that are relatively horizontal to the ground and directly above your head. Overhangs require strength and power.

Traverses: These involve moving sideways along a rock feature before topping out and require a lot of endurance.

Compression problems: These problems often require the climber to “hug” a feature on the rock to ascend the boulder, requiring good endurance and sound technique.

Highballs: A term unique to bouldering, a highball is any problem high off the ground. It might put a climber 20-feet or more off the ground, though it’s really about the degree of exposure and risk presented. These are in the realm of experienced boulderers.

Topping out: The final part of your climb; not the time to try new techniques when you’re already near the finish.  

How to prevent injury?

Remember that climbing is a sport and can be very physically demanding. You may want to cater to your fitness regimen to include strength training in your workout, which will help you with your climbing. Do not forget to stretch, as tight muscles and ligaments can lead to injury. No safety instruction is a substitute for good reasoning and proper preparation. It’s essential to challenge yourself, but don’t try something that’s entirely out of your league. Rock climbing is dangerous, but with training, planning, and adequate gear, it’s worth the risk. Anchors rarely fail except with inexperience and misuse. A lot of accidents occur because the climber did not follow acceptable belay practices, like failing to tie a knot at the end of the rope. Redundancy and repetition is the key to staying safe on the wall. Stay safe, and have fun! 

What are the bouldering level grades? 

A boulder problem is a route that a climber takes when climbing a bouldering wall or an outdoor boulder. Each route is given a climbing grade according to the V Scale. Named after John “Vermin” Sherman who graded routes with his fellow climbers in the famous bouldering region of Hueco Tanks, the V Scale rates bouldering climbs by difficulty. In addition to the beginner VB, the routes range from V0 (the easiest) to V16 (the hardest). The scale is open-ended — if a route is determined more difficult that a V16, more numbers can be added. Occasionally, you can also see a ‘+’ or ‘-‘ appendage attached to the rating to distinguish difficulties within the same score.

Where can I boulder?

If there is a climbing gym near you, you can easily find convenient bouldering problems of varying difficulty. Indoor bouldering consists of bouldering problems on a climbing wall with a crash pad set up around the entire base of the wall. The gym will charge you a one-time fee, or you can purchase a monthly pass depending on how often you plan to boulder there. The gym may have both sport climbing and bouldering options, or just one or the other. Another option is to drive to a bouldering area near you, which may include a short (or long) hike to get to the actual boulder. You will need to bring more equipment with you and ideally at least one partner in case one of you gets hurt. The equipment should include a crash pad, climbing shoes, climbing chalk, athletic tape, water, and snacks.